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  • Kristen Gilbride

Dumpster Diving Thoughts: Can Sustainability be Practiced by Students?

Updated: Aug 16, 2019

Sometimes I think I live in a sustainable bubble. My perfect world of people refusing fast fashion, recycling properly, and researching social and environmental problems on the daily...buttttt this world doesn't exist (YET!). Most times I blame corporations for not doing enough to make sustainable products accessible to everyone. But I recently came to grips with the fact that consumers and institutions play a pretty big part in this game too.

I just finished my undergraduate degree in May (yay!). At my school, May is the move out time. Most leases end June 1st, and dorms close mid-May. I was at my school the last week of May and that also happened to be the day before garbage pickup. The streets of students' houses were literally lined with 'trash'. It was amazing and disturbing. You could find anything you could think of: full length mirrors, shattered glass shards, broken chairs haphazardly tossed onto a 7-foot tall pile, matching pot sets, jeans with the belt still in the loops, NEVER WORN NIKE AIR FORCE 1s, cans and cans of not-expired canned goods literally rolling down the street.


As my friend and I looked at the garbage, my sustainable bubble POPPED! We looked at about 4 houses' curbside garbage and I was saddened; where was all of this trash going to end up? Was anyone going to properly deal with it? Do these people realize there are empty food pantries IN the city they live in??


I'm not sure if the houses we hit were inhabited by detached privileged students, or if there's a lack of infrastructure to best allocate unwanted products of that scale.


One part of sustainability that is left out of the conversation is people with transient lifestyles. It's easy to deal with waste when you have one place you live in. But what happens when you're jumping from lease to lease, house to house? As I document my journey in sustainability, I felt that I could never fully achieve the home decor-facet of sustainability. In 5 years I've lived in 6 different places; and each new home came with their different amenities that didn't fit the previous or future one. So YES, I've been that guy to buy new plates because I found out last minute my new place doesn't have plates, and YES I've bought a not-eco friendly bed and bed frame because I needed one within a week.


I know I'm not the only one that lives this transient lifestyle. The evidence is on the curbs of my school's city streets. There seems to be a cut in this could-be circular system.


When I moved into my current house, my landlord didn't supply any furniture or kitchenware or cleaning products. My landlord also didn't connect me with the previous tenant to see if I could buy any furniture or kitchenware or cleaning products off them.


My school has a collection service that picks up bulk items and claims to recycle those items, but there's no marketplace for students (or anyone) to buy those items that they picked up. My school is also located in a low income area so there aren't any sustainable stores to buy various items such as sustainable furniture, bedding, beauty, cleaning products, etc.


When living a more transient lifestyle it's easy to view your unwanted goods in an "out of sight, out of mind" says Genn Tarino, environmental specialist and my recycling pal. Being more conscious is important, but I'm a big believer in industry/policy/company/institutional change. But that has to be paired with education of the garbage/recycling industry, and what happens to those full length mirrors once the garbage picks them up.


These are my suggestions, especially for college campuses, because there are more mass move-outs followed by mass move-ins; however, these suggestions can be applied to other institutions other than college campuses. I'd also like to mention that this is not an exhaustive list, and if you have any other thoughts I'd love to hear them! And lastly I'm open to all compliments on this infographic that I made without a YouTube tutorial (and plz don't tell me that it shows that I didn't follow the tutorial thx.)